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A POSTSCRIPT                                                                        335
mood to grant newspaper interviews that evening. I real-
ised that I would have to wait until next day; in any
case it was too late to return. The sun was already touch-
ing the tops of the birch-trees and gilding them with
molten gold.
The last of the machines landed and with engines still
running they taxied straight to the wood. The mechanics
swung them round. The pale, weary airmen slowly alighted
from their cockpits only when the machines had been
safely housed in their green, turf-covered caponiers.
The very last plane to arrive was that of the Command-
er of Squadron Three. The transparent hood of the
cockpit was drawn back. First, a big ebony walking-
stick with a gold monogram came flying out and dropped
on the grass. Then, a tanned, broad-faced, black-haired
man drew himself up on powerful arms, nimbly swung his
body over the side, lowered himself to the wing and
stepped heavily to the ground. Somebody told me that he
was the best airman in the wing. Not to waste the eve-
ning, I decided to talk to him. I distinctly remember him
looking at me with his merry, vivacious, dark eyes, in
which unquenched, boyish impudence was strangely com-
bined with the weary wisdom of a man who had gone
through a great deal, and saying to me with a smile:
"Man alive! I am dog-tired. It's all I can do to drag
my feet, and my head is going round. Have you eaten?
No! Then come to the messroom with me, we'll have
supper together. They give us two hundred grams of
vodka for supper for every plane we shoot down. I'm
entitled to six hundred grams tonight. That's enough for
two. Will you come? We can chat while we are eating,
since you are so impatient to get a story."
I consented. I liked this candid, cheerful officer. We
went by the path the airmen had trodden through the
wood. My new acquaintance walked briskly and now and
again he bent down to pluck a bilberry or a cluster of pink
whortleberries, which he there and then flipped into his
mouth. He must have been very tired, because he walked
with a heavy step, but he did not lean on his strange walk-
ing-stick. It hung on his arm, and only at rare intervals
did he take it in his hand to swipe at an agaric mushroom
or a willow-herb. When, in crossing a ravine, we climbed